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Taking a stance on Gaza

Independent Jewish Voices group gives pro-Gaza talk at King’s

Levitan, a former supporter of Israel, spoke against the Israeli portrayal of Gaza. (Photo by Jennifer Gosnell)
Levitan, a former supporter of Israel, spoke against the Israeli portrayal of Gaza. (Photo by Jennifer Gosnell)

The Independent Jewish Voices group came to King’s for their presentation titled “The Story from an Insider: How Israel Spins Gaza to You and the World,” featuring speaker Tyler Levitan.

Levitan, the campaign coordinator for IJV, identified himself as a former “liberal Zionist” during his undergraduate days at Queen’s University.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines Zionism as “A movement among modern Jews having for its object the assured settlement of their race upon a national basis in Palestine; after 1948, concerned chiefly with the development of the State of Israel.”

The event, with an audience of approximately 50, was organized to promote discussions about peace between Israel and Palestine.

As a former Zionist, Levitan began the discussion by explaining what turned his thinking around.

Levitan first went over to Israel on a “Hasbara Fellowship” intended to teach him how to promote Israel on a Canadian university campus.

Levitan said the group did not let him question their actions or participate in meaningful discourse while there.

“I think that the trip actually had the opposite effect on me than what it intended,” Levitan says.

He began to research Palestine’s role in the conflict and Israel’s intentions for a just peace after the trip.

“I realized that I had to divorce myself from my Zionist identity. That I could still be Jewish, and feel Jewish without having to depend on the existence of a political entity that claimed to exist on my behalf and operate on my behalf,” says Levitan.

A topic he discussed at length was the idea of equating Judaism with Zionism. Levitan talked about the fear that many non-Jews have of being labelled “anti-Semitic” when they are criticizing the state of Israel.

“Being called anti-Israel is a centimetre away from being called an anti-Semite in today’s political environment,” says Levitan.

In his talk, Levitan touched on a wide range of politically hostile topics. He believes Israel has forgotten a key message learned in the Holocaust in their dealings with Palestinians: the cost of dehumanization.

“This is atrocious and Israel is actually blaming the victim. It is a complete denial of the humanity and victimhood of the Palestinians,” said Levitan.

During the presentation, Levitan went over the “talking points” of the Hasbara groups in Israel to dissuade criticism of the state’s actions. These included the ideas of Israel wanting peace, but having to make difficult sacrifices to achieve it, that they are alone in their quest for peace and that there is no other democracy in the region to deal with.

Levitan took questions after his presentation. A fellow IJV group member, Larry Haiven, wrote down audience questions on a blackboard, making a list to demonstrate critiques that these questions would hypothetically get from the Hasbara group, spinning audience questions into Hasbara “talking points.”

This was the only instance where audience members clashed.

“I object quite strongly to being on this list. I don’t think that asking for more of your credentials or why you’re giving this talk is a Hasbara talking point,” said an audience member.

His objection was met with a raised voice from IJV member Zalman Amit and a refusal to distinguish audience participation from a “talking point” the Hasbara group might throw at non-supporters of Israel.

Levitan ended the talk by re-iterating his position. “I refuse to support ethnic cleansing and apartheid, and I’m not going to apologize for that,” he said, and was met with applause.

Jennifer Gosnell
Jennifer Gosnell
Jennifer is the Gazette's Photo Manager.
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